Puna shooter faces
life, no parole

The jury does not buy
the mental distress defense;
sentencing is set for February

HILO >> A Big Island jury has found a 19-year-old Puna man guilty of first-degree murder for the shooting deaths of two friends last year.

Yesterday's verdict means John McGovern faces mandatory life in prison without possible parole. Circuit Judge Terence Yoshioka set sentencing for Feb. 5.

McGovern showed no reaction to the verdict. The jury also found him guilty of possession of a gun during a felony and stealing the car of one of the men he killed.

The verdict, following 3 1/2 hours of deliberation, meant that the jury rejected the argument of defense attorney Keith Shigetomi that McGovern acted out of extreme mental distress because he feared the victims. A finding of mental distress would have brought a lesser verdict of manslaughter.

Deputy Prosecutor Jack Matsukawa interpreted the verdict as agreement with witness Kyle Hill, 20, who testified that he and McGovern planned and carried out the killings of Wesley Matheson and Cassidy Toole, both 20, to steal their drugs, including marijuana.

Hill, who had pleaded guilty to two second-degree murder charges and weapons charges in the shootings, agreed to testify in a plea deal that would give him life imprisonment with the possibility of parole.

McGovern testified during the trial that he heard rumors that victims Matheson and Toole were angry at him at one time about a drug deal that went bad. But that anger appeared to subside. Nevertheless, he discussed with Hill the possibility that they might have to kill Matheson and Toole to protect their own lives.

McGovern testified he was surprised when Hill shot Matheson on May 6, 2002, at a rural Puna home because Matheson did not seem to pose any threat.

Nevertheless, after Hill shot Matheson, McGovern took the .22 rifle and shot Toole. McGovern testified that he shot Toole because he was "confused" and because that was the agreement he had with Hill.

Matsukawa told the jury that "McGovern had the only gun there. He could have walked away."


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